The Forest Floor

I wasn’t planning to go out yesterday.  I’ve been feeling a little tired since my return from Tofino.  A person should always try to plan for at least one day of rest after a vacation before jumping right back in to work. 

I’ll try to remember that next time.  

I dropped Santana off at work in West Kelowna.  Judging by all the news reports, bears have taken over the municipality, so naturally, I thought I should have a look.  I also wanted to take the new wheels out for a test run on unpaved roads, just to see how it felt.  And it was morning.  Did I really need any other reason?

Still, there was one – autumn.  I like autumn.  I like crisp mornings and warm shawls. I like roasted squash and a fire in the evening. I like the smell of fallen leaves. And I really like back-to-school supplies.  But that’s another story.

Most of all, I love that brief period where Mother Nature puts on her best show before settling down for the winter.  All those rich, jewelled tones!

I decided to drive a road I’ve taken before – Glenrosa to Bear Lake Main.  I was already familiar with it, so there would be no surprises.  I knew I could handle the road conditions. And it’s where I saw my first BC bear.  Maybe lightning would strike twice?

Like Alberta, BC doesn’t get the same variety of colour in the autumn leaves as you would find in Ontario, for example.  But that doesn’t mean the colour isn’t there.  You just have to know where to look.  In Alberta, you find the best colour in the grasses.  In BC, you look to the forest floor.  

The colours are stunning.

It was a beautiful drive.  There was no traffic at all on the first leg of the journey, and I was free to drive as slowly as I wanted, stopping often to take a closer look at something or take a few pictures.

Autumn reminds me that there is beauty in death and regeneration.  Fallen leaves and needles provide warmth, protection and nutrients for re-growth in the spring.  Seeds are dispersed, and fungi help speed up the compost.  It’s kind of an amazing process.

The road continued to climb.  

There was snow.  Oh yeah.  I’d completely forgotten that there had been snowfall in the higher elevations.  So far, there was no snow on the road, just in the trees, and the potholes were filled with water instead of ice.  Someone with a sense of humor had thrown some Christmas decorations up on a tree next to the road.  I found this guy planted in the ground.

The car was doing well.  I didn’t have any concerns with how it was handling the road.  There was one problem, though.

Remember that old joke?  How do you catch a unique rabbit?  Unique up on it.  This car was loud.  I wasn’t going to be “niquing” up on anything.  I’m not surprised I didn’t see any wildlife.  They would have heard me coming from miles away.  Gonna have to fix that.

I turned off the road and headed to Bear Lake.  Funny, it wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t find Bear Lake.  Now I’m dropping in just because I’m in the neighborhood.

Bear Lake was all but deserted.  The picnic tables were covered in snow.  The lake was still and glassy.  I saw two ducks in the shallows, but nothing else was stirring.  I parked the car and got out.

Something was happening.  Leaves were falling and snow was falling and I stood beneath it all and laughed.

Part of my heart will always belong to the West Coast, but the Okanagan is my home, and I am filled with joy to be here.

Tofino or Bust!

It was my first vacation in 30 years.  It was meticulously planned, down to the last detail.  Yes, the forecast was for rain all week, but I used to live on the island.  I was sure I could handle that.

The Kia was loaded up and ready to go, armed with everything we might need and then some.  I picked Santana up from work and we were off.  The plan was to go as far as Hope, spend the night and hopefully arrive in Qualicum Beach at a reasonable time the following day.  We found a place in Hope where we could rent a one room “cabin” for little more that the price of a campsite, saving us the hassle of setting up the tent in the rain.  It was perfect.

Hope, between showers

Our second day was just as perfect.  Two of my best friends from the island had arranged the rental of a condo on the beach for the four of us to share.  Have you ever had a friend that you haven’t seen for a while and you just pick right up where you left off?  It was like that. We spent the night talking and laughing, sharing stories from the past as though I had never been gone. I am lucky to have such friends.

The following day saw us headed for the West coast of the island.  We stopped in Cathedral Grove, or, as I like to call it, the Church of Emily Carr.  This is the forest of my dreams.  

Deep, cool green, moss-covered everything, and a silence that makes you stop and listen. 

The skies began to clear as we neared the Pacific Rim National Park.  By the time we got to Wickininish Beach, it was clear blue, all the way to the horizon.  The tide was coming in, and the waves were high and wild.  The unending thunder of the waves is the song in my heart and I rejoiced to hear it again.

Wickininish Beach

Ah, but here’s where our story starts to turn.  You knew it was going to.  The tip-off was that this vacation was meticulously planned.  When has that ever worked out?  I had purchased a park pass, and sent Santana back to the Kia to hang it from the visor.  He was gone only a few moments before joining me on the beach.  He put on his rubber boots and was trying, unsuccessfully, to jump the incoming waves.  Here is a photo of Santana on the beach.

This is the exact moment, unnoticed by either of us, the keys to the Kia fell out of his pocket.  (See arrow and circle)

Now, you wouldn’t think that the loss of a key was that big a deal, except in this case it was.  Last year when my purse was stolen from the beach, I went to the Kia dealership to have a new one made.  Unfortunately, unless you have the “master” key, a replacement can’t be made.  I purchased the Kia second-hand and didn’t have the master. My only option was to replace the entire “immobilizer” unit, at a cost higher than what I had paid for the vehicle. 

The nearest Kia dealership was in Nanaimo.  I was looking at $500 for towing, $1500 minimum for a new unit, and God only knows how much for labor.  I called the dealership in Nanaimo, as it was getting late in the day.  It was then I was told that the part I needed was no longer being made.  We were hooped.

Poor Santana was beside himself, thinking he had ruined our vacation.  But here’s the thing – stuff happens.  Stuff is always going to happen, and how it goes from there depends a lot on how you react to it.  Getting angry wasn’t going to do anyone any good.  Besides, it could have just as easily been me. 

Time to move on to plan “B”.  

Our campsite at Mackenzie Beach was already paid for.  I reasoned that if I had the Kia towed there instead, I would buy myself three days to figure out what to do next.  So that’s what I did.  I had our entirely useless vehicle towed 35 km from one beach to another, using up my last BCAA call for the year.  The tow truck had to be dispatched from Port Alberni and because of highway closures for construction at Kennedy Lake, we had a three hour wait.

We went back to the beach.

Santana had been walking up and down, hoping to find the keys, but the ocean had already claimed them.  I wanted to explore some tide pools.  I didn’t know if I’d get another chance.  I climbed up on the rocks, if you can imagine that, and took some pictures.  

Tide Pool, Wickininish

Getting down again proved to be the bigger challenge and I ripped my leg open on some barnacles.  I had a first aid kit in the Kia, but, oh yeah, it was locked.  I’m not the brightest crayon in the box.

Bleeding and bruised, feeling utterly defeated, we finally arrived at Mackenzie Beach in the dark.  Our phones were almost dead, so we parked ourselves in the office area to recharge.  I had already decided what I was going to do.  I had to buy another vehicle.  I went on Kijiji and started looking around.  I found a couple of likely options and left messages.  We dragged only what we needed down the hill to the beach and set up camp.  We forgot to bring the tent fly down with us and were too exhausted to climb back up the hill to find it.  Hoping that the rain wouldn’t return in the night, we slept under the stars and the gods cut us some slack.  It was a beautiful night.

In the morning, I called one of my friends in Qualicum.  I hadn’t received a reply from any of the ads I’d responded to and I was a little worried.

“Go,” she said, “take your whale watching trip.  Enjoy your vacation.  We’ll see what we can work out on this end.”

It wasn’t the vacation I had planned.  There was much about it that needed to be adjusted.  But it was wonderful all the same.  We went on our whale watching tour.  

Sea Otters

We took our Cultural Canoe excursion.  

Canoeing the Clayoquot

We even made it out to Meares Island for a one night stay in the hostel there.  That was the only night that it rained, by the way.  There was a fire pit in a covered gazebo.  We had a campfire, made s’mores and listened to the rain.

Overlooking the beach, Meares Island

I found a scrap metal guy to come out and take the van away.  My friend, Becky, and her partner, Tim, came out to pick us up.  Turns out, Tim had a vehicle he was willing to part with at a very reasonable price.

Did I mention how lucky I am to have friends like this?

Sunset on Mackenzie Beach

Maybe it wasn’t the “Emily Carr Vacation” that I had in mind, but it was a pretty damn good one.  And there’s always next year.

Beaver Lake and Beyond

Because of some recent changes, I only had one day off this week.  I could have spent it cleaning the house.  I could have spent it binge-watching “Jane the Virgin”.  I could have spent it preparing for next week’s Grand Adventure, but no.  I decided to go for a drive.  

Armed with a bag of oranges and my camera, Santana and I hit the road.

I noticed a sign the last time I drove through Winfield – Beaver Lake Mountain Resort, 17 km, with an arrow pointing East on a road called Beaver Lake Road.  The thing is, when I looked at the map, I couldn’t find any lake called Beaver Lake.  When I entered Beaver Lake into the directional guide, the closest Beaver Lake was 420 km away, near Saanich.  So where did Beaver Lake Road actually go?  It was time to find out.

The road wound its way upward through the countryside.  Overcast skies made the just-starting-to-turn autumn colours that much more vibrant.  

We came across a herd of cattle, on the wrong side of the fence.  This young one had attitude.  

But then again, I could see where he gets it from.

There were Meadowlarks and Red-tailed Hawks, Magpies and Ravens, but none of them wanted to pose for pictures.  Some days are like that.  The higher we went, the thicker the trees became, and soon we were immersed in forest.  The birds here were different.  There were Turkey Vultures, Whiskey Jacks and Steller’s Jays.  All of them camera shy.  

We arrived at the Beaver Lake Mountain Resort and went into the office to gather some intel.  There are a number of cabins for rent here, along with camping for both tents and RV’s.  Boat rentals, dog parks, a wellness spa, and a petting zoo are just a few of the amenities of the resort.  Oh, and did I mention that they sell mini-donuts?  I asked the woman on the desk why Beaver Lake wasn’t on the map.  

“Oh,” she said, “it’s probably listed as Swalwell Lake.  That’s what it used to be called.”

Indeed, I had seen Swalwell Lake on the map, along with a bunch of other lakes with names like Alex, Wilma, Min, Kaiser Bill and Rod.  Who are these people?  Turns out there was an interesting article written in the Kelowna Daily Courier on Aug. 26, 2014 called “Okanagan History – Name that Lake” in which I read who each of these lakes were named for.

Our next stop was Doreen Lake – again, not on the map.  (It was listed in the article, though.)

Back on the road, Santana took it upon himself to navigate our journey.  We didn’t want to just turn around and go back the way we’d came.  We wanted to follow this road and see where we ended up.  Cell service had stopped some time ago, and Santana was forced to use the Map Book that I keep on hand.  I wasn’t worried.  Santana has a knack for things like that.

The road is really kind of awesome.  Yes, there was a section that was mud, and another section that was full of potholes, making it a 20 km/hr drive.  But like I said to Santana, at that speed you hardly use any gas at all!  And it makes it easier to spot things like moss.  

And rocks.  

And mushrooms growing out of the road.

We emerged in Lavington where I admired the corn just last week.

As a side note, I won’t be posting anything next week.  Santana and I are off on our Grand Adventure – a camping trip to Vancouver Island and my first vacation since 1989.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report when I get back.  There’s at least one back country locale that I plan to bush-whack my way to.  See you then!

 

 

In Which Sally Meets a Bear, AKA Mabel Lake

I don’t remember how old I was the year we went to BC to deliver a baby gift.  I don’t remember for sure where in BC we went.  But I do remember my mom’s opinion on the whole matter.  She was a teensy bit judgmental, I think.  The relative in question was a nephew of my father’s.

“First he moves into a cabin on the side of a mountain to raise goats and make candles.  Now he’s shacked up with some woman and they have a baby.  For certain, they’ve saddled that poor child with some God-awful hippy name like Infinity or Marzipan.”

I laugh out loud as this memory surfaces, brought on, no doubt, by the landscape I am driving through.

But let me start at the beginning.

My plan, at the beginning of the day, was to go find a place called Shuswap Falls, located on Mabel Lake Road outside of Lumby.  It was overcast and cool, but the forecast was for much hotter temperatures later in the day.  My destination was less than an hour and a half away, so I was comfortable taking my time.  I chose to take backroads between Vernon and Lumby.  Google maps, I discovered, will reroute you if you go off-course.  The other one just kind of quits on me.

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I stopped to watch a border collie round up a flock of sheep.  I stopped to look at an old farm building falling back into the ground.

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I stopped to admire the corn towering over my head.

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Have you ever had a day where everything you looked at was beautiful?  That’s the kind of day I was having.

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Arriving at the Shuswap Falls Recreation Site, I headed down the trail to the viewpoint.  There were stairs.  I thought I could probably make it, and since they were going up now, they would be going down on the way back.  I could probably do that.

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Except when I got to the top, there was another set.  I hadn’t planned on that.

After a brief rest, I tackled the second set of stairs and arrived at the viewpoint.

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Once I made it back to the minivan, I decided to take a little side trip down a gravel road I had passed.  There were number of farms and houses along the road, but still plenty to look at and enjoy.

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Once I’d finished exploring that road, I found myself wondering about Mabel Lake.  I took out my phone to check the map.  No service.  Well, how far could it be?  I started out the day with half a tank of gas.  I wasn’t down to a quarter yet.  I figured I could drive until I reached a quarter tank and at that point, I’d really have to turn around and go back.

It was on that part of the drive that I recalled my mother’s feelings regarding that long-ago trip.  I’ve always wondered about farms in the middle of mountainous areas.  They don’t seem natural to me.  Of course, I’m from the prairies where farmland is a golden field that stretches to the horizon.  These pockets of green, growing things seem out of place, and maybe that’s why I remembered the landscape from the past.  That “cabin on the side of a mountain” would have been on the other side of the road, where driveways head straight up and you can’t see where they end.

I was thinking about turning back.  But through the trees I could see the blue of the lake.  I didn’t know how far I’d have to go to gain access, but it couldn’t be much further.

That’s when the bear stepped out of the woods.

He ran back when he saw me, but he didn’t run far.  I stepped out of the minivan with my camera in hand.  We looked at one another, and I almost forgot to take the shot.  Once I had taken four or five frames, I got back in the minivan and slowly drove away.

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I am blessed.

How many stops had I made?  How many breaks did I take, just to arrive at that spot at that exact moment?

I continued down the road, convinced now that I had plenty of gas.  I arrived at Mabel Lake just a few minutes later, and it too, was beautiful.

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Amy, by the way.  The baby’s name was Amy.

Yellow Lake

Last year I had an epiphany.  Well, maybe it wasn’t so much an epiphany as it was a realization.  My life had changed.  I wasn’t required to work seven days per week anymore.  I had actual days off, and I could use them for things like, I don’t know, camping?  I used to love camping.  

I set about trying to get myself outfitted for some outdoor living.  Through Kijiji and other on-line sites, I ended up getting everything I needed for under $200.  Yes, I had to do some driving around, but it was well worth it.  

We didn’t do a lot of camping, Santana and I, because our days off didn’t match up, but we did manage to get out a few times.  Our first trip was to Keremeos to look for mountain goats.  We drove up and down the highway from Keremeos to Hedley for two days and never did find the goats.  But we had a lot of laughs.

I remembered the drive to Keremeos on Highway 3A. The area intrigued me and I meant to go back and have another look.  My chance for that came on the weekend.

My friend, Tania, and I made plans to go to Keremeos for the Similkameen Pow Wow of Champions.  Santana decided to come along for the ride.  We left early in the morning so we’d have time to stop along the way.

The turn off for Highway 3A is just south of Penticton, near Kaleden.  We wound our way through the rocky outcrops and forests, past the community of Twin Lakes, until we reached a lake.  Strangely, this is not one of the Twin Lakes – you need to take a different road to get to them and that’s a trip for another day.

This is Yellow Lake, a popular spot for fishing. We walked the boardwalk to the floating dock where people were lined up on the dock in camp chairs, casting their lines out over the water.  We arrived just in time to watch an angler bring in his catch.  

Too small for dinner, but promising, all the same. The lake is stocked with Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Kokanee Salmon.  You can also catch Perch and Goldfish.  

Yes, Goldfish.  Apparently, the dumping of live Goldfish in the waters of Yellow Lake has been a problem.  The population has grown and threatens the natural eco-system of the lake.  The article I read was from November of 2017 and I was unable to find any information about what, if any, action is being taken to combat the problem.

Whether you’re an angler or not, Yellow Lake is a quiet, peaceful place to spend some time.  The waters are full of plant life, making it quite attractive to ducks.  

Heavily scented wildflowers that I can’t name line the path, and the soft buzzing of pollinators is almost hypnotic.

At the West end of the lake there is another rest stop, complete with picnic tables and flush toilets.  There is also a boat launch there, but there are restrictions on the use of motors.

It’s my understanding that there are hiking trails on the other side of the lake, moderate to difficult due to the elevation, but I’d be happy to just sit here, looking up at the cliffs instead of trying to climb them.

Different strokes.

Winfield Creek Habitat Preserve

There are days I want to get into the minivan and drive, drive, drive.  And then there are days I just don’t want to stray too far from my coffeemaker.  Know what I mean?

I stumbled upon the Winfield Creek Habitat Preserve one day last summer and promised myself I would return. So many birds!  Given the proximity to my coffee machine, it seemed like a good day to go.

My plan was to take my coffee and my beach blanket, find a spot in the park to set up with my camera and journal, and wait for the birds to come to me.  I remembered there was a small clearing that seemed perfect.  But by the time I got to Winfield, I was having second thoughts.  I couldn’t remember exactly where the clearing was.  It occurred to me that by the time I put my camera in my purse with my keys and my journal, hauled out the big lens (in it’s own case; it’s rather heavy), grabbed the blanket and my coffee – that was a lot of luggage to be hauling around on a trail, especially with my limitations.  

I draped the camera around my neck, threw the big lens over my shoulder, and tucked my keys in a hiding spot.  No journal, no blanket, no coffee.  Oh, the things we’re willing to sacrifice…

The parking area was occupied by a number of California Quail families, all of which scurried off into the undergrowth before I could get my act together.  It was a promising sign.  There were sure to be a lot of birds.

I made my way slowly down the trail.  I could hear a number of different birds, but the leafy canopy overhead prevented me from seeing any of them.  

I wasn’t worried though.  I knew once I got to the clearing, I would see plenty.  And the trail was lovely, winding its way through the mixed forest.  Breathing deeply, I let the fragrance of the trees fill me.  That scent is like a drug and I’m an addict.

Early signs of autumn were visible – leaves beginning to turn, bushes heavy with rosehips – but for the most part, it was still green.  

As near as I can tell, there are three separate ponds connected by the creek.  The first pond was empty.  The second pond was covered with bright green algae.  The third pond was full of ducks.

Where the heck was that clearing?  My legs and lungs were both feeling the burn. It felt like I’d been walking for a long time.  It had to be close!

I wandered through a stand of Ponderosa Pine and Red Cedar, turned a corner and there it was.  The tall grass sparkled in the sun.  Sparkled.  Because it was wet.  Nope.  I’m not wading my way into tall, wet grass.  I probably shouldn’t be disturbing the native plants, anyway.  This was a nature preserve, not a park.  I plopped myself down on the dirt path next to the clearing.  I desperately needed to rest. I could probably still see the birds from here. The strange thing was, I couldn’t hear any birds.  Well.  This didn’t work out at all.

I sat there for a while, resting my legs and wondering where the birds had gone. Birds tend to get quieter as the day gets longer, but surely, I hadn’t been out here that long.  Awkwardly, I got to my feet, thinking about the coffee I’d left in the van.  That’s when I saw him.  

No wonder the birds were quiet!  

Just ahead of where I had been sitting on the path, I saw what I thought was a pile of deer droppings.  Drawing closer I realized that the poop was made up of partially digested cherries.  That wasn’t deer.  That was bear. 

I made it back to the minivan in no time.  Not because I might be sharing the park with a bear, but because the path is a loop.  Had I gone the other direction when I started, I would have arrived at the clearing before my legs had a chance to say anything.  Live and learn.

Goose Lake

I meant to go to Swan Lake.  Really, I did.  But at the last minute I changed my mind and switched out Swan for Goose. The problem was that I discovered the Swan Lake Nature Reserve Trail would require I walk more than a kilometer in 30-degree heat through a field just in order to reach the lake’s edge.

I didn’t think I had it in me.

On to plan B.

Goose Lake is a small lake located in between Swan Lake and the northernmost arm of Okanagan Lake on the outskirts of Vernon.  On the map, it looked like there was access to the lake, but I found myself out of road at a concrete barrier some distance from the lake.

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Just beyond the barrier was a path that led down.  It was still too far a walk to the lake, and private property besides.  The land belongs to the Okanagan Indian Band Reserve and was formerly used as a military training ground.  Down closer to the lake were signs warning away trespassers, due to the presence of unexploded explosive ordnance, or UXOs. There have been at least seven deaths here attributed to abandoned munitions, between 1948 and 1973.  While there has been some cleanup, it is still far from safe.

The area I was in was, presumably, clean.

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White Chicory, Rare

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Wild Chicory

I walked down toward the lake, through vegetation that was ripe with singing crickets, cabbage butterflies and bees.  Wild Chicory and St. John’s Wort filled the field, along with thistles that stood eight feet tall and had stalks thicker than my forearms.

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Some kind of monstrous thistle

Chokecherry bushes bowed under the weight of their fruit.

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Chokecherry Bush

It was beautiful here.  There were Sparrows and Goldfinch in the bushes, and I could see ducks on the water below.

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Female Goldfinch

It’s too bad the land is unusable.  Let me see if I’ve got this right.

White man shows up and takes the land from the indigenous people.

White man gives back a piece of the land in the form of a reservation.

White man says, “Hey, we need to borrow some of your reservation land, for the good of the country.”

White man returns the land, now useless, to the indigenous people.

Sometimes I am ashamed of the colour of my skin.

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I had gone about as far as I could go.  I plopped myself down on the ground in the shade of a chokecherry bush and waited for the pain in my legs to abate.

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Man, it was really hot.  Sitting there on the ground, feeling the sweat trickle down my back, looking at water I couldn’t get to – obviously I needed to go find myself a different lake, even if this one was pretty.

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Cabbage Butterfly